Bocas del Polochic, Home of Manatees in the Atlantic Ocean

The wildlife refuge is located in El Estor, Izabal, and covers an area of 80.154 square miles.

by Pamela Contreras

By AGN – Karla Gutiérrez – AGN – El Estor, Izabal, is the area with the highest number of manatees in Guatemala and shelters nearly 400 plant species and more than 250 bird species. The wildlife refuge Bocas del Polochic is one of the seven sites designated under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Ramsar. The site is formed by flooded land, with broadleaf forests and aquatic vegetation communities.

According to the National Council of Protected Areas -CONAP-, this refuge has a surface area of 80.154 square miles. It also acts as a filter for nutrients and pollution coming from the Cahabón and Polochic rivers.

In other words, any substances carried by these currents are absorbed, which means the water is naturally purified before it reaches Lake Izabal.

CONAP also pointed out that the area serves as a biological corridor for the large mammals inhabiting the surrounding ecosystems. It is the most significant breeding area for the manatee in the Atlantic side of Guatemala.

Bocas del Polochic is a Wetland of International Importance

On World Wetlands Day, Conap shared some of the site’s characteristics, which also shelters several important groups of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

The refuge receives multiple species in critical stages of their life cycle and whose populations are threatened; in addition,  26 species of aquatic plants are recorded.

Bocas del Polochic is part of a biological corridor between the Sierra de las Minas biosphere reserve, Río Zarquito farm, and the municipality of Izabal.

It was declared a wetland of global importance in 1996, and since then it has been managed jointly by the Defensores de la Naturaleza Foundation and CONAP.

According to Defensores de la Naturaleza Foundation, approximately 5,500 people, mostly of Mayan ethnicity, live in the protected area.  These communities benefit directly from the ecological advantages of the wetland. Some of the benefits they obtain are:

  • clean water
  • fertile soil
  • Firewood
  • raw materials
  • fishing

Educational and sustainable development programs are implemented in coordination with the local population to improve the quality of life and protect the refuge.

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